Mr Vilsack blamed disgruntled Agriculture Department workers for criticism of the payments, saying some simply refused to acknowledge the pervasiveness of discrimination. “There are a lot of agendas here, and you open up a Pandora’s box,” he said.
But critics, including some of the original black plaintiffs, say this is precisely what the government did when it first agreed to compensate not only those who had evidence of bias, but also those who didn’t. “Why did they let people get away with this?” asked Abraham Carpenter Jr., who operates 1,200 acres in Grady, Ark. “Every time you’re going to throw money in the air, you’re going to have people acting like crazy.”
Farmers claim discrimination
Farmers regularly borrow money to move from the expensive planting season to harvest time; lack of credit can lead to sterile fields. The original trial, Pigford v. Glickman, filed in federal court in Washington in August 1997, argued that the Department of Agriculture’s credit bureau, now known as the Farm Service Agency, routinely denied or limited loans to black farmers while distributing them freely to whites.
Two government reports that year found no evidence of continued systemic discrimination. The Government Accountability Office reported that 16 percent of minority farmers were denied loans, compared to 10 percent of white farmers, but traced the difference to objective factors like bad credit. A study by the Ministry of Agriculture also found “no consistent picture of disparity” over the previous two years.
But the study found that decades of discrimination earlier had cost African-American farmers significant amounts of land and income. Black farmers have told heartbreaking tales of loan officers withholding pledged money while crops wither, repossessing their land and selling it to white buddies, who advised them to milk the crops. cows for white farmers rather than sowing their own crops.
Written complaints of discrimination had fallen on deaf ears at the Department of Agriculture, where the civil rights office was dissolved under the Reagan administration.
John W. Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer who heads the National Black Farmers Association, was among those urging President Bill Clinton to settle the case. At a White House meeting in December 1997, Mr. Boyd said he recounted how a loan officer refused him $ 7,500 and then handed a check for $ 150,000 to a white farmer who did not ‘had not even filled out a request.